The Aug. 8 letter referring to the notion that King George was deposed for "disobeying God" presumably refers to the quotation from a 17th-century regicide, passed on by Benjamin Franklin to Thomas Jefferson: "Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God."

Jefferson was so taken with the quotation that he proposed it as the motto for the country's Great Seal. He even had the seal produced, depicting the Israelites watching as Pharaoh's army is engulfed by waves, with the motto surrounding the scene.

Congress rejected the seal, but Jefferson used it as his personal seal. The motto, usually rendered as "resistance" rather than "rebellion," became part of abolitionist ideology. Jefferson stated that "it makes no difference whether my neighbor has 20 gods or no god," but he also asserted that if a great slave revolt were to take place, "God" surely would intervene on the side of the slaves.

In Jefferson's original wording, "these truths" were "sacred and undeniable." Franklin substituted "self-evident." He associated religion with sun worship and observed that as there were many suns, the population of each solar system must have its own god. Our sun is a mid-size sun and so, he reasoned, our god is a middling (i.e., middle-class) god -- "and that is why he's a jealous god."

Nevertheless, when the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was torn by dissension, Franklin proposed that the delegates pray to "God" in hopes of calming them. "We are not yet in need of foreign aid," Hamilton snorted. The motion failed.